STATEMENTS ON MORAL AND SOCIAL CONCERNS
27TH BIENNIAL CLERGY-LAITY CONGRESS
GREEK ORTHODOX ARCHDIOCESE
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
THE FOLLOWING STATEMENTS ARE DRAWN FROM ENCYCLICALS OF ARCHBISHOP IAKOVOS, AS WELL AS ARTICLES AND STATEMENTS FROM THEOLOGIANS, CLERICS AND ETHICISTS, AND ARE MEANT TO CONVEY ORTHODOX THOUGHTS AND GUIDELINES TO KEY SOCIAL AND MORAL ISSUES OF TODAY—RATHER THAN DEFINITIVE POSITION STATEMENTS OF THE GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH.
For further information contact:
Department Church & Society
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America
8 East 79 Street
New York, New York 10021
THE FAMILY OF MAN
Outside the Womb
The Orthodox Church affirms the duty of the procreation of the human race, as our Creator commanded that man “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). She is also aware of the added responsibility given to man in the second charge of managing his own reproductive behavior, to “subdue” the earth and “have dominion over every living thing” (Gen. 1:28-29). Herein can be found the answers to such modern issues as “maintaining the balance of nature” and “guarding against overpopulation”.
The Church also stresses the sacramental character of Christian marriage; in the Sacrament of Matrimony, natural marriage enters the realm of God’s eternal Kingdom. Within its bounds, husband and wife are called to perfect their love for one another into a life long communion and to grow in oneness towards Christ. And out of this mutual love of husband and wife for one another, all other purposes of marriage flow. Husband and wife pledge their mutual support to one another not only in the joy of life but also in trials and tribulations. They exclusively provide for one another’s sexual fulfillment in an all embracing love.
As the Christian couple progresses in love, they find themselves growing closer, both to each other and to God. The eventual birth of their children is an eloquent and significant expression and seal of their loving union. For their offspring represent only the physical (genetic) union of husband and wife, but also in their spiritual union, the presence of God, the one true source of the love in their marriage. Here they share with God in the creation of new human beings; with the Son who creates according to the will of God the Father, and with the Holy Spirit who imparts the vivifying grace of God to the child conceived. The new family represents a little “ekklesia” or “church”, a magnificent manifestation of Christ’s love.
A – ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION
This sacramental unity of marriage and the family is maintained as long as no foreign party sunders the unique bond between husband and wife. It excludes all intrusions such as if a third party joins one of the spouses in sexual relations, but also when the seal of marriage is broken by an outside party contributing genetic material (whether semen or ovum) towards the creation of a child who ought to belong genetically to not one but both marriage partners.
For the same reason, in principle, the Church holds it morally wrong for the ovum (egg) of another woman to be impregnated by the sperm of the husband artificially and implanted in the wife’s womb. The obligation to preserve the bond of marital fidelity thus prohibits Orthodox Christians from the practice of artificial insemination by a donor in which the wife of a sterile husband is impregnated through a medical procedure with the sperm of an anonymous male donor. However, the Orthodox Church, recognizing as it does the importance of the procreative function, does not offer direct opposition to the procedure of artificial insemination where the procedure respects the bounds of marital fidelity. This means the egg must come from the wife’s own ovaries, and that the sperm must be the husband’s own; for a donor, whether male or female, would constitute the intrusion of a third party into the marriage tantamount to adultery.
What permits this rather unusual practice is that it is a way in which medical knowledge is properly used to help the Christian marriage realize one of its major purposes; procreation. There does not seem to be any major moral problem with the relatively simple process by which artificial insemination takes place.
B – TEST TUBE BABIES
However, in vitro fertilization (test tube babies) according to which the ovum and the sperm are united outside the wife’s body present serious problems to the Orthodox conscience. In this procedure the cells which produce the ova (oocytes) are removed from a wife’s body, fertilized by the sperm of husband or donor, kept in a laboratory culture solution until they reach a certain stage of development (blastocyte stage) and subsequently transferred and implanted in the mother’s womb. Serious objection is raised here to the fact that many more eggs are fertilized than can be used; those not used are discarded. This is easily seen to be the killing of potential life: abortion. Though there are a few cases of well born test tube babies, we do not know the effects of this procedure on all children who would be born from these methods. We do know that many deformities can and have taken place in test tube experiments. Finally, objections must be raised in terms of the mentality created by such a practice. As a step which dehumanizes life and which separates so dramatically the personal relations of a married couple from childbearing it is very suspect. For the above-mentioned reasons, the Orthodox Church does not encourage its members to become involve din invitro fertilization procedures, nor does it seem that it would be wise for society in general to encourage this practice.
In the case of men and women who have been rendered sterile and who cannot benefit from a fertilization procedure excluding all but genetic material from husband and wife, the Church expresses sympathy but upholds the sanctity of the marriage bond outside intrusion. A couple faced with such a problem should be directed toward adoption as an alternative, especially in light of our contemporary overpopulation problems. The Church would for the same reason also have to reject any future use of a “host mother” in whom a fertilized egg could be implanted until the fetus developed to term, at which time the child would be turned over to its genetic parents. Such a procedure is foreseen to be used when a woman cannot carry a child to term due to uterine problems or defects, or if she simply wishes to avoid the inconveniences of pregnancy and childbearing. This procedure seems especially contrary to Orthodox Christian ethic in view of the special, natural, spiritual, and emotional relationship which exists between mother and baby during pregnancy.
C – ARTIFICIAL WOMBS
If an artificial womb were to be developed making it possible to support human life entirely outside a human mother’s womb, while no third part is technically present here, it would seem that the Church would also oppose this procedure as contrary to nature and as a sorry attempt by creatures to mimic a function unique to their Creator. Such an action would also constitute a denial of the fullness of our physical existence which is sanctified by our Lord’s Incarnation and consecrated to God’s service in all its aspects including the sexual and reproductive functions. In opposing a substitute womb, whether human or mechanical, the Church seeks to protect the mental and spiritual welfare of the unborn child: the child of a “host mother” or artificial womb is a candidate for severe identity problems: Who is his mother — his “genetic” or “host” mother? And is a child of an artificial womb human, or machine? Indeed, the sanctity of the mother’s womb must be maintained if we are to fully maintain our humanity.
The most divine gift bestowed by God upon mankind is the gift of life itself, and throughout the centuries the sacredness of human life has been indisputed by responsible men and women of all persuasions.
We are currently confronted with a controversy surrounding the liberalization of abortion statutes stemming from the initiative of various groups and individuals whose actions, although predicted upon sincere and humanitarian motives, are nevertheless in conflict with divine law. Their position evolves from the general contention that the termination of unborn human life is justifiable when medical opinion believes there is substantial risk that continuance of the pregnancy would impair the physical or mental health of the mother, or that the child would be born with grave physical or mental defects, or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.
It has been the position of the Orthodox Church over the centuries that the taking of unborn life is morally wrong. This is based upon divine law which is the most difficult law for man to comprehend for its transcends the boundaries of human frailty due to its source of divine authority. No law is perfect, and man in his diverse interpretations of the law is continually reminded of his human limitations. Even in such basic law as “Thou Shalt Not Kill” we can take no pride in its exceptions which justify war and self-defense, for they serve only to becloud our unceasing efforts toward shaping man in the image of God. This same principle of exception also extends to the unborn child. When the unborn child places the life of its mother in jeopardy, then and only then can this life be sacrificed for the welfare of its mother. To move beyond this exception would be transgressing man’s duty in the protection of human life as understood and interpreted by the Orthodox Church.
We are profoundly aware that the discipline of divine law sometimes creates inequities that are difficult for human comprehension to accept, but the eternal values of divine law were not created for a man, but for mankind.
The solution to our vexing problem of an increasing need for abortion does not lie in reinterpreting the law to meet the needs of our present day morality, but rather challenges us to find more effective means of living up to the high standards of divine law which is the eternal protector of human life.
We give glory to God for creating man in His image, and we offer humble thanksgiving that in his unending search for knowledge and truth man is proving worthy of this divine gift. With the great advances in human achievement, especially in the realm of medical science, we are fully confident that the welfare of both the born and unborn are being drawn closer to the day when complications of pregnancy and abnormal birth will go the way of many diseases which have been overcome and are now conspicuous by their absence.
Only by our unrelenting efforts to override the age-old temptations that beset the citizens of any society blessed with bounty and abundance will we subdue the plethora of problems that now besiege us, and of which abortion is only one.
It is our firm conviction that one day the laws of God and man will coincide, and toward the achievement of that divine day of destiny we pledge ourselves to the protection of human life, born and unborn, as a sacred trust of man’s eternal covenant with God.
THE SOCIETY OF MAN
The Greek Orthodox Church is against racial segregation, and believes moreover, that all Americans, regardless of faith or color, should be granted equal opportunities for public education, and for employment in all fields of endeavor, consistent with the best of their abilities and qualifications; and that all should enjoy equal advantages and be the beneficiaries of equal public accommodations and facilities.
In this spirit we call upon our fellow citizens of all faiths, and upon all those who cherish truth and justice, to oppose every expression and demonstration of bigotry. We also urge all our fellow citizens to desist, in word and action, from whatever might seem to further the circulation of false reports, rumors, or representations that distort our mutual relations and the progress of common welfare.
But the Christians of America should feel that they have a special mandate to work for equal rights for all. We are challenged to prove that the Legions of Christ can, in His Name, uphold these rights wherever and whenever they are endangered. Christian love is not a semantic symbol. It is a commandment to which we must conform our actions as Christians and strive in every way to make a reality, consistent with the will of God which was expressed by His Son Jesus Christ when He said, “Love ye one another”.
The whole question of integration and equal rights for all races, and humane understanding among them, has an ethical basis linked not only with our own national security but also with our relationships with half the nations of the earth. Justice, peace, and equality are not meant to be merely noble words; they are meant to be the basic and workable concepts of humanity, which will teach us to help and respect each other.
Throughout the ages the Orthodox Church has survived centuries of persecution which, even to this day continues to be imposed upon untold millions of Orthodox Christians in many lands. The Orthodox Church has borne the yoke of oppression and is wholly aware that persecution, prejudice and intolerance is the greatest sin that the free soul of man can bear. We therefore, extend and join with our fellow Christians and citizens everywhere in deploring all vestiges of segregation that deny to free men, the dignity of equal rights. We pray that the spirit of compassionate patience and understanding brotherhood will penetrate the hearts of all men and women whose leadership must guide the destiny of the great racial challenge facing America.
As children of God, made in His image, we urge that all men of all races exercise disciplined restraint in declaring their God given beliefs and rights to that these blessings may be freely gained in a society which constitutionally and spiritually guarantees these rights.
The Church deplores violence. It upholds however the right of free men and women to act as the people of God in expressing their claim to the God given rights, which no man can be denied because of color or creed. God is Love, so love is the greatest power of His children on earth. We prayerfully beseech our fellow citizens, and especially the leaders of our nation, to decide their actions in the light of this eternal Truth, and lovingly direct them towards a state of equality and social justice that would secure peace and happiness both at home and abroad.
We pray that all men may transcend the limitations of human frailty, and as God fearing and dedicated Christians, transmit the spirit of prayer of our Lord and Savioiur, Jesus Christ:
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
CRIME, LAW, AND ORDER
Today our proud Nation wears a yoke of infamy — a yoke made of greed, hate, violence, apathy and lawlessness. Collectively, it is called CRIME.
This criminalistic burden grows heavier from disregard for the rights of peaceful citizens, sprouting youthful criminality, riots engulfing entire communities, unfounded and irresponsible charges against police, public apathy, disrespect for law and due process, and undue concern and sympathy for the lawbreaker. What has happened to the moral fiber of our people? Recently seven leading citizens of a community testified in court to the excellent reputations of the defendants although they admitted knowing those on trial had engaged in criminal activities for many years.
Crime and law and order are natural enemies. In a sense they are inseparable. Their courses lead to an inevitable collision. At times, crime and violence erupt in the streets of our communities and all but overrun our legal barriers, which are becoming porous and weak by abuse and misuse.
We see examples every day where the supremacy of law and order is put to test. Enforcement officers are called on to handle explosive situations — riots, premeditated arson, civil disobedience, and wild rampages — that border on insurrection and anarchy. Whole areas of cities rise in smoke, pillage, and destruction. While enforcement officers strive to restore order, they are shot, assaulted, and taunted.
Recent court decisions seem to place more emphasis on the conduct of the police officer than on the conduct of the criminal. The question of guilt is obscured and lost in a maze of procrastinating technicalities and legal joustings. Many times, truth, which often exposes guilt, is only a secondary objective; the main search is for error or a technical loophole for the murderer or hoodlum.
Crime rates in the United States will drop when the criminal is convinced that his arrest will be swift, his prosecution prompt, and his sentence severe.
The height of human dignity is reached by free men deliberately choosing their destiny, humbly mindful of their obligations to their Creator and their fellow man.
As Edmund Burke stated, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
The Orthodox Church believes:
That we must reawaken in every citizen a fierce devotion to supremacy of law and equal justice;
That we must forever renounce the idiocy that associate glamour and heroism with lawbreakers;
That all criminals must be brought to the bar of justice for realistic handling, not merely maudlin sympathy;
That means must be provided to defeat the enemies within our borders who are puppets of enemies from without;
That we must insure by every lawful means that differences are resolved in the courtroom, not in the street;
That we must adamantly insist that each individual is held responsible for the natural and probable consequences of his acts.
The early church was opposed to capital punishment. There were several reasons why this was so. The first was based on the teachings of the Lord. Capital punishment is based on the idea of retribution. All systems of law, both ancient and modern, espouse it. The Old Testament expresses this view with the teaching “an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Leviticus 24:20). The conclusion is inevitable: “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death” (Exodus 21:24). Jesus’ teaching on retribution is very clear. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil … love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. (Matthew 5:38-39, 44).
Later the opposition to retribution was easily applied to capital punishment. The early Christians were frequently victims of this law in the Roman Circus where they were sentenced to die by the judges of the empire. But Christians were also opposed to capital punishment because it was the taking away of life. The clearest statement of early Christian opposition to capital punishment comes from the pen of Lectantius (240-32):
When God prohibits killing, He not only forbids us to commit brigandage, which is not allowed even by the public laws, but He warns us not to do even those things which are regarded as legal among men… And so it will not be lawful for a just man … to accuse anyone of a capital offense, because it makes no difference whether thou kill with a sword or with a word, since killing itself is forbidden. And so, in this commandment of God, no exception at all ought to be made to the rule that it is always wrong to kill a man, whom God has wished to be regarded as a sacrosanct creature. Institutes VI, XX, 15.
So long as Christians were themselves persecuted by the State and there was no possibility of Christians holding public office and having to enforce “those things which are regarded as legal among men” the Christian view was relatively easy to maintain. If the State was going to execute men for capital crimes, it was the State’s business, but Christians should not have anything to do with it.
The problem arose, however, when after Constantine the Great, Christians began to enter government service and became the makers of the law, the judges and the enforcers of public order and peace. In the words of St. Paul, the ruler “is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. He is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).
So long as it was considered necessary for the sake of justice, good order and the deterrence of wrong doing, most Christians found it possible to go along with the idea of capital punishment. It was not seen as an ideal, or as a desirable thing, but as an unfortunate necessary evil. In no case was it ever argued that capital punishment was desirable for itself or that it ever fitted very well with the Christian idea.
With more information available to us today about the consequences of capital punishment, many Christians are of the opinion that it no longer serves a deterrent to crime. Statistic of the United States show that the existence of capital punishment in some states and its absence in other states seems to have no measurable effect on the rate of various capital crimes.
One reason for this is that long ago capital punishment ceased to be uniformly enforced. For a long time now, persons accused of capital crimes who can afford the legal expertise nearly always escape capital punishment. Generally speaking, only the weak, the poor, the friendless have been executed in more recent years.
Thus it appears from a Christian point of view that the State has the right to employ capital punishment as a deterrent to crime, if it chooses. However, if capital punishment is maintained, then it ought to be consistently enforced. It is clear that in America we are not willing to do that. This provides an opportunity for Christians to seek to make known their own ethical view into the law of the land. Repealing capital punishment however, requires that persons who are dangerous to the safety of good citizens and who threaten the order of society either be fully reformed or permanently imprisoned. Abolishment of capital punishment requires a consistent and strong penal policy and prison reform.
PREVENTING NUCLEAR WAR
Though the Orthodox Church has not traditionally held a pacifist position on the questions of war, it has always seen war as evil. When forced by events to become involved in war, Orthodox Christians continued to see such war as an evil, and its termination was sought with prayers directed to God.
The threat of massive destruction by nuclear weapons and its cost in human lives, cultural and civilized values, economic resources, the pollution of nature, and its long-lasting residual impact on human life make nuclear war a totally indefensible alternative. International tensions as well as the proliferation on nuclear weapons among second and third world countries greatly increase the potential of the willed or accidental use of highly destructive nuclear weapons. We believe that it is a spiritual and moral imperative that every effort be exercised with a sense of urgency to both stop the increase of nuclear weaponry and to resume the process of serious negotiations to reduce the already swollen capabilities of the superpowers and other nations.
In light of the international realities, to reduce the threat of nuclear war requires an end to the superpowers’ arms race and an immediate and drastic cut of their nuclear arsenals.
Pending the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons, all nuclear weapon States must, as a first step, undertake unconditionally not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries and nuclear free zones, and they must not be the first to use such weapons against each other at any time or under any circumstances.
A nuclear war may break out in two ways: either the major nuclear powers engage each other in a nuclear war from the very beginning, or they begin with a conventional war which may escalate into a nuclear conflict. Therefore, we must in no case lost sight of the danger of a conventional war while paying attention to the prevention of nuclear war. Otherwise, the door may be left open for the outbreak of a nuclear war. The harsh reality in the world today is that the enormous conventional military armaments in the possession of the superpowers are often used as a means of aggression and expansion. While carrying out nuclear disarmament, the two superpowers should be urged also to take the lead in drastically reducing their huge conventional armaments.
In order to prevent war and safeguard world peace, it is essential for the people of the world to close their ranks and wage a resolute struggle against all manifestations of hegemonism and expansionism. And the struggle for disarmament should be combined with this struggle.
The abhorrence of war and its accompanying tragedies is wholly supported by the spiritual and moral tenets of the Orthodox Church.
Notwithstanding this, Orthodoxy has often, over its long history, found itself at the very crossroads of national and international turmoil and persecution which made war eventually inevitable. While the Church abhors the making of war it must consider the larger alternative of evil which history has proven time and time again cannot be averted. Therefore, with the exception of students preparing for the priesthood, the Church has never taken a position preventing its members from serving in the Armed Forces.
Those seeking to apply for the status of Conscientious Objector must do so on the basis of personal belief and conviction nourished on the highest ideals of the Christian Gospel. These do not only forbid participation in the taking of life — an action necessitated by war — but the desire to attain the highest possible spiritual perfection in and through Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. A candidate for the status of conscientious objector must proclaim that any other classification would infringe upon and frustrate his spiritual aspirations, and that service to one’s country in a humanitarian capacity is the preferred alternative.
Any request for a statement as to individual character and religious commitment must be acquired from the local Greek Orthodox Priest who is personally familiar with the life of the candidate.
The historic decision of the Supreme Court that prayer and Bible reading in the classroom are unconstitutional represents the final stage in the gradual process of estrangement of religion and school. It is the sad culmination of the growing secularization of American life and a departure from the traditional reverence for religion in public schools.
It is a tragic irony that in an age of spiritual bankruptcy we are witnessing the betrayal of the Judaeo-Christian heritage which has nourished the moral and spiritual fiber of this nation from the beginning.
The Court ruling separates religion still further from American society and compartmentalizes to a further degree. It confirms the suspicion that atheism is just as legitimate as religion in our American Democracy. The atheist is just as good an American as the believer in God. Americanism has become totally unrelated to faith in God. Official expression is given to the new attitude that religion is irrelevant to Americanism. But, it is an easy step to make moral and spiritual values irrelevant, too. When the state “reverently” isolates the School from every last vestige of religious expression after almost 200 years since its inception, it is dealing a blow to the cause of national security. On the one hand the state appeals to our sense of justice, equality and rightness, and on the other, it removes the foundation of these values from the public school.
The Orthodox Church cannot remain complacent in the face of the recent Court decision. Having grown and flourished in a culturally homogeneous world, she judges as detrimental to the security of the nation any act that alienates public Education from Religion. No nation and society can prosper unless these three basic institutions work together on the basis of commonly accepted values and ideals rooted in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who is the Life and the Way and the Truth. There is no permanent prosperity and security in any nation or society apart from Him.
Since the Orthodox Church has moved Westward and finds herself in a pluralistic society, she prays that public education will preserve the minimum of acknowledgment of the importance of Religion. She rejoiced to see that the Bible, which is possessed in common by all religions in America, had been an object of reverence and source of inspiration. She lamented when even this least evidence of faith was removed allegedly in the name of religious freedom. Now she laments even further with the elimination of prayer from schools, thus playing into the hands of the foes of religious belief.
The unprecedented flow of pornography in our country confronts us both as Greek Orthodox church persons and as concerned citizens.
Religion and morality are indispensable supports of our form of government. Pornography constitutes a vicious assault on those supports. It dehumanizes the human person, reduces him to an animalistic level, and is therefore contrary to the will of God. It is destructive of the institution of marriage, and so of the family. It is destructive of love, preaching a doctrine of ugly lovelessness to our children.
Religion and morality are the resources on which our government must draw. When we look at the freedom with which pornography flows today, when we look at our spiritual and moral capability, then we see a depletion of that capability.
We are equally concerned about the crime of pornography as citizens. We see how it adds to the soaring crime rate. There are so many areas in our cities where people no longer have the use of their streets because of this fear to walk them.
Contrary to the view expressed by some, pornography debases society and its growing influence threatens our view of life and all that true religion teaches about human relationships. As pornography has grown in popularity its content has worsened considerably. Much of it now portrays violence, degradation and humiliation in addition to explicit sexual content. Common pornographic themes now include sadism, incest, child molestation, rape and even murder.
So called adult bookshops in the United States now total more than 15,000 … three times the number of the nation’s largest restaurant chain. In 1983 the industry was estimated to have taken in $6 billion, almost as much money as conventional movie and record industries combined.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
We must stop looking through our fingers as if to say this cannot happen with our people. It already has. Let us become aware of it. Pray that we may be all of one mid and accord before God. We must stop the degeneration of the term sex and return it to its proper light as taught by the Holy Orthodox Church.
Let us practice our Faith, not with words alone, but with positive action by not becoming contributors to the spreading of this evil. Let us challenge such conditions and say we are positively opposed to it!! Our brother is our concern; Lead him not into temptation but deliver him from evil.
For those who would introduce sex education into the schools, the question of values and norms for sexual behavior should be the key problem. It is important that sex education not be reduced to the mere communication of information. Rather, this significant area of experience should be placed in a setting where long-tested human, personal and spiritual values can illuminate it and give it meaning. In such a setting, we are convinced it is not only possible but necessary to recognize certain basic moral principles, not as sectarian religious doctrine, but as the heritage of Western civilization and Christian morality.
The challenge of resolving this problem of values in a pluralistic society makes it all the more imperative that communities planning to introduce sex education into the schools not only call upon educators to become involved in decisions about goals and techniques, but also invite in our situation parents and clergy in the community to take part in shaping such a curriculum.
To those groups responsible for developing school and community programs in sex education we suggest the following guidelines:
OUR SOCIAL CONCERNS
In the world today there are over 500 million people who are severely and chronically undernourished. Over the past decade this number has grown steadily from the 360 million which was estimated in 1969-1971. If this trend continues — and we have no evidence to suggest that it will not — there could be 650 million people suffering from acute hunger at the year 2000.
While statistics cannot begin to portray human anguish, two considerations relating to the beginning and end of life are important. In most of the countries with endemic food deficits, infant mortality is above 130 to each 1,000 live births per year and the expectancy of life at birth is below 50 years, or a full quarter century less than in more fortunate countries. Hunger denies, wastes or degrades the gift of life for too many people.
The growth of hunger could be arrested. Careful, analytical studies show that with a modest increase in effort by all people and religions of the earth, the advance of hunger can be halted. It could be reduced by half or more in the next two decades. The attention of the Greek Orthodox should be repeatedly drawn to this immense and awful tragedy.
The decline in infant mortality rates worldwide over recent decades — the gradual reduction in the number of children dying before reaching the age of one — did not occur by accident. It was not a fluke or chance phenomenon. This progress was the result of dedicated, sustained efforts by people around the world to improve the quality of life for themselves, their families and their communities.
The news that some progress has been made must not be seen as an invitation to sit back, take it easy and assume that all is going well. The problems of hunger, malnutrition, disease and poverty will not go away by themselves. And although there is reason to be encouraged that progress has been made, that progress only emphasizes how far we have to go and the overwhelming scope of the job ahead. It must be a personal challenge to each of us to expand and improve upon those actions that have brought us to where we are today.
We should be challenged to again ask and answer for ourselves the question: What will the Greek Orthodox Church do to support fellow human beings in breaking their chains of hunger?
The appropriate personal action for us to take may change from year to year, or even day to day. By keeping this question before us, we ensure that our words and actions will continue to make a difference and that the progress toward ending the unnecessary deaths of our fellow beings will continue.
The biblical attitude toward the aging stands in sharp contrast to contemporary attitudes. In the Bible, old age is promised as a reward for respect toward parents.
“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “That it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:2-3, RSV)
Throughout the Scriptures all people are urged to show reverence and respect for the aging.
Hearken to your father who begot you, and do not despite your mother when she is old (Proverbs 22:223, RSV),
Do not rebuke an older man but exhort him as your would a father; treat … older women like mothers… (1 Timothy 5:1-2, RSV)
Paul, in his letter to Timothy, challenges children to care for the aging and needy in their families, to return benefit for benefit to parents who have nurtured them when they were young (1 Timothy 5:4).
In addition to specific biblical references concerning respect and care for aging persons, one prevailing truth which permeates the Scriptures is the sacredness of human personality. Respect for persons should be a vital part of our religious experience and should characterize our attitudes toward the older members of our society. Respect for old age is a human attitude which distinguishes man from beast.
Attitudes toward the aging members come into proper perspective as the Christian family seeks a better understanding of the special needs of the aging. Where are some of these needs?
We need to remember that the individual does not become someone else as he grows older. People do not develop drastically different personalities overnight at the point of retirement. A person has the same basic needs and general traits when he is 70 as he had when he was younger. The aging do not suddenly become either self-sufficient or dependent, responsive or withdrawn, hopeful or hopeless. They had these qualities earlier although they may become more pronounced in later years.
The general needs of older persons can be summed up as follows:
Certainly the greatest need for those who have come to old age without Christ is to come to a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and to participate in the sacramental life of the Church. It should never be too late to make this decision.
The Bible and Holy Tradition, the sources of the faith condemn homosexuality. It is, and shall remain for Orthodox Christians a grave sin, because:
B. THE HOMOSEXUAL
The homosexual is viewed as a person with a sexual abnormality. As a person, he is entitled to basic human rights, and the protection of the law. The protection of his person as a citizen must not be extended to the protection of his abnormality, which would, in essence comprise a legal sanction of homosexuality.
Movements that seek to remedy the intrinsic guilt or self-consciousness of the homosexual, through the organization and formation of a subculture whose existence is predicated upon sexual misorientation; and the use of public funds to condition society to accept homosexuality as a socially and morally acceptable alternative life style, as remedial measures, beg the true issue of the causes of the plight of the homosexual by treating the symptom rather than the cause, and result in a disservice both to the homosexual and to society.
Thus the enactment of legislation which seeks to legislate immorality, serves only to perpetuate the problems and weaken society. In humanitarian consideration of homosexuals as fellow human beings we advocate the increased availability of counseling, psychiatric, and medical services to treat the cause wherever treatable, and the legal social structuring necessary to discourage the growth of homosexuality as a sociological phenomenon.
Since the question of human rights is clearly a political concern, does it follow the Christian people and Christian churches may wash their hands of the matter? Greek Orthodox faithful, especially those who emigrated to this country, feel that they are indeed blessed by God to live in a land where the freedom to worship as one pleases is respected as the inalienable and divine right of every man. Because of this, our Greek Orthodox Faith places us at the very heart of the issue of human rights. This fundamental freedom is the first of the Bill of Rights which was ratified as part of our Constitution on December 15, 1791. One hundred and fifty-seven years later, on December 10th, 1948, the nations of the world gathered in San Francisco to sign the United Nations’ Charter which reaffirmed “Faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worthy of human person and in the equal right of men and women”. In July and August of 1983, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, the World Council of Churches sixth assembly reaffirmed its commitment to work for the “Realization of Human Rights which has been demonstrated in the life and work of the churches throughout the world…”
It is the firm conviction of the Greek Orthodox Church that all human beings, regardless of race, sex, or belief have been created by God as individuals and in a common, human family and community. In reconciling humankind and creation with God, Jesus Christ has also reconciled human beings with each other. The Church is increasingly aware of the fact that human rights cannot be dealt with in isolation from the larger issues of peace, justice, militarism, disarmament and suppression. The fuller the rights that every person enjoys in society, the more stable that society is likely to be; the fuller the implementation of human rights globally, the more stable international relations are likely to be. Injustice in a society, including the corruption of public officials, may contribute to domestic, economic, and political disorder, which in turn may lead to the deterioration in relations among nations.
In the name of the Holy Trinity, the Greek Orthodox Church reaffirms its commitment to work even more fervently with other denominations and groups for the elimination of all forms of inhumanity, brutality, discrimination, persecution and oppression, both within the United States, and in the world. As we view with concern the racist apertheid policies of South Africa; the pressures confronting the Nicaraguan people by the “contras”; the economic exploitation of people in the Third World; the suppression of human and civil rights in Turkey; the gross violation of international law on Cyprus; the continued strife and repression of human rights in Northern Epirus; the killings, torture and climate of fear in El Salvadore; the continuing breakdown of mechanisms that insure human rights to people in the Philippines, Paraguay, China, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, and other places of the world; the restriction of religious activities and practices in the Soviet Union, Rumania and East Germany as well as Bulgaria, the occupied Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, cause us the discrepancies which exist between what we profess and what we practice. We must move beyond making declarations about human rights, to making more effective use of existing mechanisms and devising where necessary new means for meeting this challenge.
The Church prays; “For those who are harassed and persecuted because of their religious beliefs, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike, in many parts of the world; for those whose rightful demands and persistence are met with greater oppression and the ignominy; and for those whose agony for justice, food, shelter, health care and education is accelerated with each passing day”. (Archbishop Iakovos, “Letter to the Reverend Clergy” December 6, 1978).